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When Do Babies See Color?


When Can Babies See Color?

Do our babies see the colors of their world? Or is the world gray? The critical period of development for your child’s vision is in the first year.

Up until the last few years, it was widely believed that for many months after birth, an infant sees the world only in black and white, with shades of gray. Within the last 10 years, however, breakthrough research studies are revealing amazing revelations about your baby’s eye development for color hues and color cognition.

Your newborn’s vision at birth is too weak to distinguish color shades or depth perception, as the rods are still in the process of maturity. So, it is true that your baby’s first perception of the world is in white and black and shades of gray for the first few weeks outside the womb. But ground-breaking research on infant eye development has brought to light that your child begins to process color cognition much sooner. Therefore, there are cognitive connections with her world early on in life.

So, when do babies see color? Let’s look at the research and timelines for when things are happening as early development begins to color your baby’s world.

Color Research Reveals New Truths About When Babies See Color

There has been some truly fascinating research coming forth on color development in children, especially out of University of Sussex, School of Psychology (aka Sussex Baby Lab). The research at the Sussex Baby Lab is advancing multiple studies on how infants and children perceive, learn, and use colors in their developmental advancements. Much of the current data is a result of the on-going discoveries from Sussex Baby Lab over the last ten years.

The University of Sussex is dedicated to developing the medical and scientific links between color perception and cognitive development in children. Prior to the exhaustive research coming out of Sussex, few studies were available on color perception with infants and children.

What colors can babies see?

Of great significance is the revelation that in the second trimester of life, babies can sort and categorize colors into five color hues: red, green, yellow, blue and violet/purple. So, between ages 4 and 6 months, babies are developing the ability to differentiate multiple colors and within those colors, integrating shades of light and dark elements in a color wheel of 14 separate colors. The Sussex color study was ground-breaking, and the research findings reported in multiple scientific and medical journals.

The University of Sussex studies have advanced that infant vision is more complex than the medical field and scholars previously understood. And the research is unraveling that your baby’s color development is integral to linguistics, neurological development, cognitive development, mental health. All areas of the natural and applied sciences are benefitting from the color research on newborns and infants.

How Babies See Color in the First Year of Life

Birth to Three Months

How do babies see color as newborns may astonish you. During this period, your baby’s vision is at its weakest. Your infant can see better peripherally than centrally, as the pupil and retina are undergoing development. Your baby sees color during the first couple weeks as white, black and hues of gray. Shadowed patterns can be differentiated, especially dark objects surrounded by light.

Within the second and third month, the eye rods are developing. Your baby will focus on large geometric patterns in bold colors within a meter distance. It is believed that at the end of this period of development, babies see color hues of red and green first. So, these are good colors to introduce into her realm of vision to test the eye development. During this time, large and highly contrasting black and white toys are ideal to entice your baby to focus and develop eye movement.

Visual Development Cues:

  • Baby can see about 36 inches in front
  • Baby begins to see and respond to movements within the first week
  • Baby has heightened interest and attention on your face within the first week
  • Baby begins to smile when she sees you come in to focus
  • Baby begins to track movement of objects with eyes
  • Baby becomes interested in toys and objects with bold shapes and color contrast
  • Baby can hold a focus for a couple seconds advancing to a few seconds
  • Baby can track objects without moving head at 2 to 3 months
  • Baby can recognize familiar objects at 2 to 3 months
  • Baby can coordinate eye and hand movement to bat at objects at 3 months

Four Months to Six Months

The vast research on how babies see color has occurred in this period of development. During this second major phase of eye development, babies see color in greater numbers.

At around four months, babies see colors in the basic prime colors and combined hues. They will respond well to red, blue, yellow and green. Research suggests that babies see colors in bold hues first, and are interested in such with by strong geometric sizes and shapes.

At the age of 5 and 6 months, your baby is developing a good depth of color vision, suggesting that a vast range of shades, including some pastel colors, may be distinguishable. Additionally, your baby is able to differentiate light and dark aspects of prime colors, for example red (dark) and pink (light). It’s not as perfect as an adult, yet, according to the American Optometric Association. But your baby’s color range is now pretty good and will improve.

Visual Development Cues:

  • Baby is developing good depth perception
  • Baby sees color in a large range of hues
  • Baby recognizes objects and faces at a distance

Seven Months to Nine Months

During this period of development your baby’s vision continues to advance. Eyesight sharpens with clearer vision, three-dimensional perception and color recognition enhancement. Your baby sees color in a vast array of hues. The introduction of more varied color choices will assist in developing your child’s categorical learning.

Other Visual Development Cues:

  • Baby has good depth perception
  • Baby can judge distance very well
  • Baby sees in three-dimensions
  • Baby has more enhanced color hue recognition and categorization

Ten to Twelve Months

At this stage your baby has reached the point where there is coordinated maturing between the eye and optical part of the brain (occipital lobes). Your baby should have fully developed vision clarity.

Color perception has fully developed such that your child can organize colors as well as an adult. Ultimately, your baby perceives the world in the color that you do. Her world is now fully colored.

Visual Development Cues:

  • Baby can grasp objects
  • Baby can detect virtually all colors and hues
  • Baby will begin to pull itself up

What You Can Do to Assure Your Baby’s Eyes Develop

New understanding on your child’s eye development makes the connection between healthy vision and cognitive development. Impairing eye health impairs the brain’s development. So more than ever it is imperative to engage in well care exams for vision and to provide healthful care support to assure maximum benefit in the optical development.
Detecting vision problems early on should be your main priority. This will ensure your baby matures and learns can delay a baby’s development. It is important to detect these problems as early as possible so they can get the help they need to mature and develop properly.
The following are critical observations you can take to be the vision support your baby needs according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology Association:

    • Support infant eye screening as recommended by your pediatrician to identify any vision concerns at the onset.
    • Educate yourself on age appropriate development tools to promote eye health in your baby.
    • Discuss with your pediatrician any vision concerns or visual delays you see.
    • Watch for any signs of eye and vision problems.
    • Eye tracking delays
    • Eye focus delays
    • Eyes crossed after 4 months
    • Eyes wandering or fluttering after 4 months
    • Failure to respond to your face or familiar objects
    • Baby does not smile when you come into view
    • Inward or outward tracking eyes / eye coordination does not coincide at 3 months.


So you now know that babies see color very early in life. As a parent, knowledge on your baby’s development, as well as the integral link between perception of color and mental cognition, is vitally important to undergird his fundamental learning and healthy advancements. Knowing what to expect will allow you to enjoy your child’s joy in discovery, to be sure. But knowing the development of color from your baby’s perspective allows you to be a valid contributor to his development.

The fascinating research on color development in children ensues and continues to reveal new theories on how color cognition leads to brain advancement and acuity. Currently, the research at the Sussex Baby Lab, University of Sussex, England is at the forefront. On-going work is advancing multiple analyses on how infants and children perceive, learn, and use colors in the developmental advancements.

We are here to bring you valid and supported information to assist you in those endeavors.

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